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Four new medical teams leaving for Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–Southern Baptist medical units from Kentucky and Mississippi will leave for Port-Au-Prince Jan. 30, while Florida and South Carolina medical units will fly out Wednesday, Feb. 3.

With 10 members each — including doctors, nurses, chaplains and disaster relief experts — the units will treat as many Haiti earthquake survivors as possible during their five-day stay amid the stench, death and rubble of Port-Au-Prince and the surrounding area.

Fritz Wilson and Dennis Wilbanks of the Florida Baptist Convention — who just returned from their first trip to Haiti to assess damage and ministry opportunities — will return Jan. 29, according to Mickey Caison, adult volunteer mobilization team leader for the North American Mission Board.

“Fritz and Dennis will go back and continue to work with the resources of the Florida Baptist Convention, the Haitian associations and Haitian Baptist churches to give us more much-needed information,” Caison said, adding that the four medical teams also will provide additional on-the-ground intelligence.

Medical teams from Arkansas and North Carolina recently completed ministry stints in Haiti and returned home.

“To our state disaster relief teams and to Southern Baptists everywhere, I want to repeat what Fritz has said: ‘Other relief agencies in Haiti are running a 100-yard dash; we are running a marathon.’ We’re going to be in Haiti a long time,” Caison said.

“Baptist Global Response, International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Florida Baptist Convention and the states that have been involved in the assessments are doing all we can do to open the door so we can begin to provide the ministry we all want to provide to meet the needs of the Haiti people,” Caison added.

Caison said the challenges of responding to the Haiti earthquake are significant — especially in the area of security.

NAMB disaster relief coordinator Bruce Poss, who also just returned from Haiti as a member of the initial assessment team, said, “We must ensure the safety of the disaster relief volunteers who ultimately go in. As the necessities of life dwindle in Haiti, people who are desperate do desperate things. Although people are there trying to give aid, their security may be threatened.”

According to Associated Press reports, roving gangs of young men are breaking into food distribution lines, stealing rice and water from needy Haitians and returning later to offer to re-sell the food at black market prices.

Transportation directly into Port-Au-Prince continues to be an obstacle. The airport still has only one operational runway, which military and private aircraft must use to both land and take off. Commercial airline flights still are prohibited.

“The only sure way to get into Haiti is to fly into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and take the overland trip to Port-Au-Prince, an exhausting 17-hour trip,” said Poss, who himself had to negotiate the 160 miles of rocky, uneven roads to get into Port-Au-Prince last week. “On a good day, the roads are not good, full of potholes. If you don’t slow down to 30 mph or so, you’ll tear up the vehicle. Last week, we had two flat tires due to the roads.”

Although Poss said many gas stations were closed, his group — traveling in a four-vehicle caravan — found some open and tried to keep their cars filled up. But the price of gasoline bought from the open stations was $12 to $15 a gallon.

“For a volunteer going in to work, the long overland drive just adds to the fatigue,” Poss said. “We must get to the point of being able to fly directly into Port-Au-Prince, but there’s no assurance of that any time soon.”

Another issue is lodging for the volunteers, Poss said. While the assessment team stayed at El Shaddai Orphanage last week, some future volunteers will be lodged at the Florida Baptist Convention’s guest house in Port-Au-Prince, which suffered only minimal damage during the original earthquake.

“But the guest house will only accommodate a maximum of 55 people,” Poss said. “And it’s our only secure place, guarded 24/7. When you leave the guest house compound, you have to be cautious.”

The cross-SBC disaster relief team wants to ensure that Southern Baptist aid has a Haitian face, Poss added.

“We want the Haitians to see Haitian Baptists meeting their needs. That’s our long-term strategy,” Poss said. “That will have the most positive, long-lasting effect on future ministry in Haiti.”

Poss said not everything was disheartening on his initial trip to survey the damage in Haiti.

“One of the most encouraging and inspiring things we saw was at El Shaddai Orphanage every night. As many as 200 people would gather for two hours of church every night we were there. You could hear the Haitian orphans — about 40 — singing and worshiping in Creole each night. They were excited about singing and really raised the volume.

“If there was any group that had a reason not to sing, it was those orphans, from toddlers to teens,” Poss said. “One night I went to sleep with these kids still singing in the background.”

A second cross-SBC disaster relief team meeting on Haiti is scheduled for Feb. 11-12 at NAMB’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga., Caison noted. He also predicted NAMB will open its Disaster Operations Center during the next week to coordinate state convention response in Haiti.

In addition to the Haiti response, disaster relief teams in several state conventions are bracing to respond to several weather events across the United States, including floods and high winds in California, flooding in northern Arizona and an ice storm predicted to affect two-thirds of Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and several other Midwestern states.

Disaster relief work also continues in American Samoa, where some 1,700 families remain homeless, living in FEMA tents four months after the deadly tsunami struck there last September.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):

— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”

— Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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  • Mickey Noah